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A sweeping look at the lives and work of two important English Romantic painters, from a Los Angeles Times Book Prize–winning author.
Renowned poet Stanley Plumly, who has been praised for his “obsessive, intricate, intimate and brilliant” (Washington Post) nonfiction, explores immortality in art through the work of two impressive landscape artists: John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. How is it that this disparate pair will come to be regarded as Britain’s supreme landscape painters, precursors to Impressionism and Modernism? How did each painter’s life influence his work?
Almost exact contemporaries, both legendary artists experience a life-changing tragedy—for Constable it is the long illness and death of his wife; for Turner, the death of his singular parent and supporter, his father. Their work will take on new power thereafter: Constable, his Hampstead cloud studies; Turner, his Venetian watercolors and oils. Seeking the transcendent aesthetic awe of the sublime and reeling from their personal anguish, these talented painters portrayed the terrible beauty of the natural world from an intimate, close-up perspective.
Plumly studies the paintings against the pull of the artists’ lives, probing how each finds the sublime in different, though inherently connected, worlds. At once a meditation on the difficulties in achieving truly immortal works of art and an exploration of the relationship between artist and artwork, Elegy Landscapes takes a wide-angle look at the philosophy of the sublime.
About the Author
Stanley Plumly (1939—2019) authored eleven books of poetry, including the National Book Award finalist and Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner Old Heart. He was also the author of four books of nonfiction, including Elegy Landscapes and The Immortal Evening, winner of the Truman Capote Prize for Literary Criticism. His other honors include the Paterson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was Maryland’s poet laureate from 2009 to 2018.
[A] vibrant dual biography... Plumly's eye for detail and eloquent powers of description make this book a significant work of art history.
[Plumly] is a particularly effective art historian, capable of re-creating these sublime masterpieces with his inspired prose... A polyphonic, scholarly study of two of art history's most important figures.
In this erudite and probing study, award-winning poet Stanley Plumly yields new insights into the iconic works of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, Britain’s greatest landscape artists. In the pastoral nostalgia of Constable and the modernist fury of Turner, Plumly finds a commonality in their quest to depict the sublime. A compelling portrait of two artists whose work continues to startle and amaze. — Donna M. Lucey, author of Sargent’s Women
Twining biography with intense meditation on the paintings, Stanley Plumly shows how two starkly different landscape artists made masterpieces from ruin and grief, John Constable in quiet fields and clouds, J.M.W. Turner in scenes of storm and fire. This book is a hymn to art, in itself a work of visionary art. — Rosanna Warren, author of Ghost in a Red Hat
This is a gorgeous book, visually, conceptually, and in the delights of reading. Stanley Plumly, with intimate immersion in the lives, the world, and the art of these two contemporary nineteenth-century artists, treats us to forty-one prose-poem chapters that are rival works of art in themselves: vignettes of intense, informed imagination, beautifully explicated, delicately informed, sympathetic, revelatory. He thinks as a poet, writes as poet, with the sure-footedness of an informed scholar and on-site researcher. Constable and Turner would come back to life just to see themselves in Elegy Landscapes, and do so, virtually, in Plumly’s vivid illuminations.
— Susan J. Wolfson, professor of English, Princeton University